Passing. I went to two NHL games growing up in Montreal, it was so hard to get tickets. One was against New York, one against Boston. After both of them, my dad came away saying the same thing, “They pass so well.”
When the Russians came to Canada to play four games of the eight-game Summit Series in 1972, similarly, everyone was incredibly impressed by two things: that they would turn around and go back where they had skated from if they didn’t like the set-up they saw in front of them, rather than dumping the puck into the zone and chasing it, and that they passed like they were firing lasers.
In Southern California, the Anaheim Ducks often play like that, zipping long passes diagonally across the ice, daring the opposition to intercept. They rarely do. The result is exciting play, quick pace, and goals.
The LA Kings, by contrast, don’t take that chance very often. Instead, their style is to make short, quick passes player to player, and once in the zone, to cycle in tiny bursts of energy.
Monday night against Calgary, they turned that habit on its head, two young defensemen showing what it is to move the puck. But first, the reaction by Calgary’s coach to his team’s eventual 3-1 loss. Keep in mind that he said before the game that it was a must-win for his squad, and essentially, that the Flames’ season rode on the game, which was their last of three in Southern California. They had lost the prior two. OK, so after, “Look around in your neighborhood, in society—there’s much worse things than losing a couple of hockey games.”
Hmm. Not if you’re a hockey team.
He talked some more, then, when asked when some changes might be made, said, “After a loss, there’s never a good time to make decisions.” More filler, then, “Trades, firing, that’s part of the job. It’s the sports business. It’s the job we chose.”
Now, I was listening carefully, and nobody said, “firing,” but my theory is that people always tell the truth, though sometimes you have to turn what they said upside down to figure that out. So maybe nobody else said firing, but it’s on Bob Hartley’s mind. And if trades are, too, and this game was as cataclysmic as he said beforehand, then it’s going to be goodbye Jerome sooner rather than later.
But you want to know about the LA Kings’ newfound magic with the puck. OK. So on the first goal, Slava Voynov was at the point with the puck, and he spotted Dustin Brown in the slot area, to the far left side. He put the puck right onto his stick, and though it went off the heel, it was buried into the open side of the net. The pass was as sharp and long as any I’ve seen this year out of this team.
After, Brown had this to say about Voynov and Jake Muzzin, about whom more in a moment, because he was the guy who made the evening’s other amazing pass. Warning ahead of time–this rambles a bit: “Slava’s shown that he can, even last year, I don’t know what the point totals were, nothing near where they are this year, but I think that when things are going well, right now for both these guys the confidence is good.” OK, so he stops short of a ringing endorsement, but he carried on to say that both guys need to keep doing what got them into position to be a part of the team. “They’re getting the points as well as playing well.”
The other great pass came off Muzzin’s stick, to Stoll. Muzzin headed over the blueline and intercepted a puck while a Calgary winger was coming towards him. He carried the puck into the zone, holding it a couple of seconds longer than it seemed he ought to. But it was part of his plan. He used the Calgary player as a decoy, waiting until he skated by, then spotted Stoll coming into the slot. He threaded a soft pass over, and Stoll buried it past Joey MacDonald’s glove hand up into the top corner.
Muzzin told IH about the pass. “I was kind of reading off the winger. The winger was coming out on me, and so I just waited him, and he skated right by me. I saw Stolly out of the corner of my eye, just curling in there, and I knew he was a righty, so I knew where he was going. I saw him after the winger, I think. I just waited the guy [from Calgary] out and made the play to Stolly in the middle.”
Stoll described it to IH by saying, “He had good patience. I think he kind of saw me, and he had good patience with the puck and he put it over. If I have the patience, too, it draws more coverage over to him, and it gives me more time and space to [work]. Great play by him though.” It was the eventual game-winner, and Stoll’s fourth of the season. At the time, it made the game 2-0, ahd this was in period one. The Flames got a goal back with just over five minutes left. The Kings sealed the win with an empty-net goal by Brown with about half a minute remaining.
Muzzin talked a little more about his night, which featured two assists. The other was the secondary one on the Brown goal, a short pass along the blueline to Voynov, who was inside the zone about six feet. “It’s nice to get the points, but it’s just kind of, I got to be a great defender first, to worry about my own zone. If I can provide offense, then when needed. I try not to do too much.”
Does passing come naturally to him? I asked. “Just like any other guy. Just trying to make plays and trying to provide offense when I can.”
On this night, it was more than that, and between him and Voynov, they put on a clinic that marked a departure from the Kings’ usual way of doing things.
Tyler Toffoli was recalled and will be on the roster, though who knows whether playing or not, soon.
The team left after the game for two games, one each in Phoenix and San Jose. Coach Sutter came to the post-game news conference with his briefcase over this shoulder, ready to go.
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